Nine Inch Nails Return to U.S. Soil at Lollapalooza

Nine  Inch Nails
Photos by Tyler Curtis

If a casual observer came late to Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails first show in the United States in four years, they might have thought Friday night’s performance at Lollapalooza was a subdued affair.

To close the headlining show, Reznor chose the dark and brooding classic “Hurt,” in which a massive audience swayed and sang along with the emotional lyrics.  Set against a jet-black background, the gold lights cut through to the crowd as Reznor lamented, “What have I become, my sweetest friend?”

True, it was a poignant signal of Nine Inch Nails’ triumphant return to American soil, but Reznor and his four bandmates certainly delivered their share of fireworks, as well.

From the moment Reznor stalked out on stage, long-awaiting fans screamed platitudes, eager to hear the familiar hits from the multi-instrumentalist/producer/genius’ catalog and hopeful of catching a few new gems.

Both wishes were fulfilled.

Reznor began the evening solo, unveiling “Copy of A,” which will be on his Sept. 3 album Hesitation Marks, as the rest of the group eventually joined him.  From there, he dipped back to 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine with “Sanctified,” although this version featured decidedly more electronic bleeps and blurps than the original version.

Nine Inch NailsA few songs later, a drum kit finally appeared and led the charge to the chugging “1,000,000.” The relentless pounding on the skins gave the track a mesmerizing beat that made the fuzzed-out guitars seem even more frenetic.

The energy only continued with the hard-hitting “March of the Pigs,” an exceptionally assertive pull from the 1994 album The Downward Spiral.  Reznor even tossed his microphone stand in a fit of fury.

If you can’t tell by now, Reznor had no qualms about jumping to several points in his career during the same setlist, a fact that seemed to delight the masses.

That approval was ratcheted up even more when the opening beats of “Closer” blared over Grant Park.  The blurry red lines dashing across the screens behind the band resembled something like radio waves (or the cover of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album), but they all fell flat while the final haunting piano notes brought it to an end.

Another highlight was “Head Like a Hole,” which sparked a whirlwind of aggressive dance parties on the ground and lighters in the air.  While it wasn’t as epic as 1991′s Lollapalooza, where they were joined by Dave Navarro, Eric Avery, Gibby Haynes and Ice-T, it was still amazing.

At that point, Reznor had built up the tension and offered a release on more than one occasion.  It seems natural that he would choose to go out with “Hurt.”

In mixing new and old, explosive and smoldering, Reznor showed that he was still on top of his game after four years away from his home turf.

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